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Correction to This Article
An article and graphic in the Nov. 5 Metro section about Adrian M. Fenty's trips to visit big-city mayors listed an incorrect party affiliation for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. She is a Democrat.

Fenty's Trips to Big-City Mayors Aim to Build Optimism at Home

Interim Metro chief Dan Tangherlini, left, and D.C. mayoral candidate Adrian M. Fenty meet in San Francisco with that city's mayor, Gavin Newsom.
Interim Metro chief Dan Tangherlini, left, and D.C. mayoral candidate Adrian M. Fenty meet in San Francisco with that city's mayor, Gavin Newsom. (By David Nakamura -- The Washington Post)

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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- Adrian M. Fenty had come across the country seeking the playbook for how to be a successful big-city chief executive, so Mayor Gavin Newsom guided him into the executive office and handed it over: a weekly schedule book.

If Fenty was dreaming big when he entered the dramatic Beaux-Arts-inspired City Hall building, he instead got a lecture about keeping an eye on the details. Once, Newsom said, he thought he was addressing preservationists at a church when someone informed him that he was at a wake.

"As mayor, you'll have so many things to do that you'll literally show up at things and be like, 'Where are we?' " Newsom (D) told the D.C. Democratic mayoral nominee.

Fenty started to laugh, but Newsom cut him off: "Be careful, this could happen to you, too!"

Newsom's point reflects the advice that could help Fenty, who was in San Francisco as part of a multicity tour to talk with big-city mayors. At 35, with only six years as a D.C. Council member on his résumé, Fenty is quick to say that he could use some practical tips from people who have fought the types of political battles he thinks he might face.

But Fenty, who is expected to win Tuesday's general election easily, also hopes his trips will raise D.C. residents' expectations. Fenty knows precisely where he is -- at the threshold between promise and payoff in his pledge to elevate the District into a world-class, professionally managed city.

"If we're just going to be happy judging the District against the old District government and saying how far we've come, that's limiting our potential," Fenty said. "Why not go out and find out if there's a better way to run the District of Columbia?"

That won't be easy. The record amount of campaign money that Fenty has collected, which is funding his travels, reflects the long list of people who have bought into his message that he can create a more responsive and inclusive government for the diverse city.

Although Fenty might be moving in hyperdrive, the city's 34,000-employee bureaucracy probably won't speed up overnight. Some District officials and activists have criticized his love affair with other cities.

Despite the odds, Fenty has come back from his road trips with a growing to-do list. He wants to take direct control of the public schools, as Michael R. Bloomberg (R) has done in New York; adopt the data-heavy accountability system that Martin O'Malley (D) uses in Baltimore; develop affordable housing as fast as Newsom (D) is doing in San Francisco; and overhaul the District's infamously slow permits office in the customer-friendly model overseen by Los Angeles's Antonio R. Villaraigosa (D).

At each stop, Fenty has touted his conversations with the mayors as endorsements of his vision that the District should operate like a business, with clearer lines of authority and greater accountability.

During a sojourn to New York three weeks ago, Fenty chatted with Bloomberg at an uptown deli, then rode the subway with him to City Hall, with reporters in tow. Pausing on the sidewalk before heading inside, Bloomberg praised Fenty as part of a new generation of leaders who are willing to take risks.

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